About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

August 31, 2010

911 is still a joke

So late last night a saw a man (who was not a worker) walking on the elevated subway tracks around a parked subway train. I saw him duck under the train and go to the other side. Perhaps a graffiti guy. But I don't know. I figured he was up to no good. As the poster tells me, I saw something, so I said something.

I called 911 and said there was a guy walking on the tracks by a parked train and gave the location and name and phone number.

They called back once to confirm my location.

They called back a second time to confirm which tracks I was talking about.

They called back a third time to confirm that this individual was actually on the tracks and thus the MTA's responsibility.

Then they called back a fourth time to ask if I could still see the individual on the tracks.

Once I said, "No," she thanked me and hung up before I could add, "Because I'm now inside!" Not to mention I couldn't see the guy when I called the first time because he was on the other side of a train.

I'm pretty sure there was no response.

American Ethos

"In America, individuals, not groups, act; and individuals, not groups, should be held accountable." Most of you would probably agree with that statement. I do, too. But I would be quick to add that culture and background matter. A lot.

Background isn't destiny, but it's a damn good predictor of your future. You can tell an amazing amount of information about somebody based just on where they're born (particularly what country) and how much education their parents have. The apple really doesn't fall far from the tree. Not usually.

Take crime and punishment. I'm not surprised when a black male high-school drop-out ends up in prison. It's (unfortunately) predictable. To know the odds in no way negates individual responsibility, but it does mean perhaps it makes more sense (morally and economically) to change the odds rather than build more prisons.

Conservatives love giving lip service to individuality. They mock liberal sociologists (a term that indeed is generally redundant) for never holding individuals accountable for their actions. And sociologists may indeed be a bit slow to hold some individuals accountable for their actions. But that's better than holding individuals accountable for the actions of others.

Take Timothy McVeigh. I remember I was driving in California when the Oklahoma City bombing happening in 1995. The report on the radio talked about, "dark-skinned possibly Arab men seen fleeing the scene."

"No f*cking way!" I said to my friend. "There are no Arabs in Oklahoma. And if Arabs were bombing something, they would do somewhere else! These were crazy white guys." Now I may be ignorant about the thriving Arab scene in Oklahoma City, but I happened to be right about the bombing not being done by an Arab, and also the more likely location of terrorist attack when it was done by Arabs.

As Stanley Fish writes in the Times:
In the brief period between the bombing and the emergence of McVeigh, speculation had centered on Arab terrorists and the culture of violence that was said to be woven into the fabric of the religion of Islam.

But when it turned out that a white guy (with the help of a few of his friends) had done it, talk of “culture” suddenly ceased and was replaced by the vocabulary and mantras of individualism: each of us is a single, free agent; blaming something called “culture” was just a way of off-loading responsibility for the deeds we commit.
If the bad act is committed by a member of a group you wish to demonize, attribute it to a community or a religion and not to the individual. But if the bad act is committed by someone whose profile, interests and agendas are uncomfortably close to your own, detach the malefactor from everything that is going on or is in the air (he came from nowhere) and characterize him as a one-off, non-generalizable, sui generis phenomenon.
Need more proof? Compare the flack Obama got from the right for what Rev. Jeremiah Wright preached with the flack George Bush got for the preachings of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Except Bush didn't get any flack.

So now there are those who say the proposed mosque in Lower Manhattan is "symbolic of a culture that wants to kill Americans." (Ironic since more Muslims want to be American than kill Americans.) But when a crazy American slashes an innocent Muslim, the right is quick to say that the stabbing is “the act of a disturbed individual" and “we shouldn’t let anyone suggest that this criminal reflects anybody but himself.”

So let me get this straight: peaceful tolerant Americans who want to build a large mosque and community center represent foreign terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center and killed Americans; but hate-filled Americans who actually commit real acts of violence against Muslims represent... nothing at all.

Got it.

Why does my head feel like its about to explode?

News Bueno or News Malo?

You want the good news or the bad news?

Good news! "Mexico arrests drug trafficker Edgar 'Barbie' Valdez." Pop the corks! But I wasn't even going to post on that cause who the f*ck cares? It's not like it will change anything or win the war on drugs. From the NYT:
Mr. Valdez, who was born in Laredo, Tex., faces an indictment in United States District Court....

The arrest came the same day that the head of the federal police said 3,200 officers had been dismissed this year, about a tenth of the force, because they had failed lie detector and other tests designed to root out corruption.

About an hour after the announcement of Mr. Valdez’s arrest, Mr. Calderón appeared in a campaign-style televised announcement, with scenes of the police on the march, a high-tech war room and families, declaring that the fight against crime “is worth it. You are the reason.”
You tell 'em, Felipe! Or, as Johnny Cash might say, "He was a young cowboy and he said he'd done wrong."

Bad news: "Mayor in Mexican Border State Killed."
Hidalgo Mayor Marco Antonio Leal Garcia was the second mayor to be assassinated in the past two weeks in the area.
"This cowardly crime, and the reprehensible violent acts that occurred recently in this state, strengthen the commitment of the Mexican government to continue fighting the criminal gangs that seek to intimidate the families of Tamaulipas," Calderon's office said in a statement.
Oh... poor Filipe.

So was this a good or bad day. I'd say bad. The killing of a mayor is worse than any stupid arrest.

August 30, 2010

My Hood

Of all the places for heaven on earth, people rarely think of Queens.

I was just about to get to work when a friend called and said to meet him in the park for a picnic. So off we went to meet him and his son. My friend, a restaurant owner from Egypt (he's been featured on all the big TV-Chef shows with Bourdain, Zimmern, Jamie Oliver, Bobby Flay) is a well traveled man. And his favorite place in the world? "Astoria is heaven," he said. "Where else do you find the whole world in a few blocks? And everybody getting along."

He may have a point.

We got left-wing art:



Right-wing art:


And then in the park, a man approached looking suspiciously like Buzz Lightyear on a bike.


Turns out the man was carrying a plane. A small plane, but one that indeed flies. A model plane? Well, yes, but cooler. FPV-flying, I learned, means first-person-view flying. There's a camera on front and he puts on goggles and flies from the plane's perspective.

There's also a second camera to record. He was trying out a new hi-def camera. Hopefully there will be a video of it soon.


"Like a predator drone?" I asked.

"No," he said, "Because they can fly on their own. Without me, this crashes."

Contact! (For take off, there are no wheels)

I'll be damned if it didn't fly around Roosevelt Island, buzz a tug boat, and make a soft and successful landing (especially when you consider there are no wheels).

Then on the way home we passed a Jersey farm stand on the most un-rural of streets (21st Street) and bought some peaches, corn, and tomatoes.


And this was just today. Last week we even our very own alligator on the loose just two short blocks from my home.

I really should leave the house more.

I probably would if it weren't for the gators on the loose!

[Update: Turns out it's horrible here.]

August 25, 2010

Las Vegas Shooting "Justified"

As predicted, the killing of unarmed Trevon Cole in Las Vegas, based on bad tactics, a bad warrant, bad flashlight batteries (?!), a bad track record, misinformation, mis-identification was found to be justified.
Despite contradictory statements by nearly everyone else who testified, Yant stood by his story that he fired the fatal shot only after Cole stood up, turned and thrust his hands toward Yant as if he had a gun.
Yant testified: "Unfortunately he made an aggressive act toward me. He made me do my job."

Silly me. All this time I thought the job of police officers was to uphold the laws and state and federal constitutions.

Mayor Mike's Mosque Matters

New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg usually makes sense. I particularly like it when he berates citizenry over common sense issues. "People," he whines, "You gotta stop [fill in the blank]." Makes me all sheepish and look at my toes and mumble, "Sorry, Mister Mayor." And I didn't even do what he's complaining about!

Of course it's not cool to like politicians. Especially rich white whiny ones. And he's certainly not perfect (see: over-development and Atlantic Yards Project). But he's a good mayor and we'll miss him when he's gone. Mark my words.

I watched the whole thing so you don't have to. The highlights:

1:10 — Tells the "real America" camp to back off.

2:54 — Uses the word "repudiate" correctly.

4:10 — "Islam did not attack the World Trade Center. Al Qaeda did. To implicate all of Islam for the actions of a few... is unfair and un-American."

7:15 — "And there are people... who are hoping that a compromise will end the debate. But it won't. The question will then become, 'How big should the no mosque zone be around the world trade center site?' There's already a mosque four blocks away. Should it be moved? This is a test of our commitment to American values. And we have to have the courage of our convictions. ... We must put our faith in the freedoms than have sustained our great country for 200 years.

9:15 — He reads a quote from the Imam in question. It's too long to transcribe, but worth a listen.

10:25 — Mike closes with, "We will keep New York the most open, diverse, tolerant and free city in the World."

Take that, all you haters. Bloomberg makes me proud to be a New Yorker.

14-year-old girl killer

She must have "hated Mexicans," too.

Two men were sitting on their stoop when, Peter Hermann writes:
When a young girl armed with a silver handgun approached and announced a robbery. "Because of the age of the suspect the victims began to laugh at which time the suspect fired one shot grazing the victim Wilmer Bonilla's head and striking Jose Coreas in the center of his forehead."

Inner-Harbor Cop Fired

This is the officer (not "man" or "dude") who got pissed at a young white skateboarder.

Peter Hermann reports:
Last month, a three-member police panel called a trial board held a hearing and found Rivieri, a 19-year veteran, guilty of failing to issue the youth a citizen contact receipt and failing to file a report, but not guilty of using excessive and unnecessary force and uttering a discourtesy.

The panel recommended that Bealefeld suspend Rivieri for several days. But Bealefeld has the discretion to up the penalty, and he opted to fire the officer whose actions were displayed on video and seen around the world.
Three years after it happens the guy gets fired? Is there more I don't know? Seems way too harsh to me.

I wrote about the incident here.
We don't know what happened before the video starts. ... Did the cop already tell the kids three times to stop skateboarding in the Inner Harbor? Did the kid flip off the cop right before the video starts? I think there are lots of possible situations that could justify the cop's behavior.
Now let's say, for the sake of argument, that the video shows the whole story. If that’s the case, then the officer handled the situation horribly. If your goal is to get three kids to stop skateboarding, there are much better ways to do it.
Still, sometimes a person does need a lesson. Sometimes an arrest isn’t appropriate. Or legal. So as good police, you’ve got to put on an act: yell, threaten, cajole, lecture. All these are part of the job. But it’s important to have an objective when you deal with a situation. Then you have to figure out the best method to achieve your goals. Yelling for the sake of yelling isn’t good policing.
I heard a lot of cops talk like this when I was on the street. Sometimes it wasn't needed, but sometimes it was. If you fired every cop who ever talked like this, you'd have about six cops left in the Eastern, and I wouldn't be one of them. Sometimes this language and attitude is needed. Probably not in this case... but who am I to say?

Rivieri gets to keep his pension, right?

Terrorist Slashes New York City Cab Driver

The terrorists, Christian Michael Enright, said, "Assalamu alaikum — consider this a checkpoint!" and slashed Muslim American Ahmed Sharif across the neck, and then on the face from his nose to his upper lip. Sharif said:
“I feel very sad. ... I have been here more than 25 years. I have been driving a taxi more than 15 years. All my four kids were born here. I never feel this hopeless and insecure before.”
Now I don't want anything thinking that all Christians are terrorists and banning churches. I mean, there are Christians who believe in peace, too. There must be. But where are the priests? Why aren't they denouncing this barbaric and cowardly attack?

The Times also has an interesting little piece on the Arab neighborhood, Little Syria, that used to be withing "hallowed ground distance" of the World Trade Center site before there was a World Trade Center. Next to was Little Athens.

In the 1940s, the "Arab-American community was almost entirely displaced by construction of entrance ramps to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel."

The Bandit

Incredible car crash caught on police dash-cam.

But I'm really posting this because it's the same car I had in Baltimore.

Like the Bandit. But my car was white. And I was more Smokey than the Bandit. It was the last of Detroit's metal cars. And I never crashed it.

10 Mistakes in Manila

The BBC has an interesting piece about the bus siege by a rogue cop in which eight tourists were killed. The good news I think we would do better here.

In related news, have you heard that the Chicago Cubs are going to move to the Philippines? They're changing their name are will now be called the Manila Folders (sorry, I heard that one when I was about 7).

August 24, 2010


I'm pro-Muslim. I sound funny just saying that. I'm not too keen on religion or zealots in general. But why would I be anti-Muslim any more than anti-Jew or anti-Christian? I have good friends who are Muslims. I have students who are Muslims. I have neighbors who are Muslim. I've traveled to Muslim countries. Muslims all nice people. Well, not all of them, but you know what I mean. People are not bad because of their religion. It simply doesn't make sense to hate people because of their religion. I'm not going to debate that issue.


Am I an Islamophobe? [cue scary music]

Time magazine has an article about Islamophobia [reprise scary music]. One of the questions Time asks is "Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence against nonbelievers." That's supposed to show Islamophobia. Forty-six percent of people responded in the affirmative.


I would respond in the affirmative. I mean, I haven't done a study and certainly not historically (the Christians have a pretty bad track record from, say 1000 AD to well into the 20th century!). But today, if you were to look at people killed in acts of religious-inspired violence, most of those doing the killing believe they're acting in the name of Islam (Most of the victims are Muslim too, I would add).

What if parts of Islam are more likely to encourage violence against others? And I'm not saying that most Muslims agree with these zealots.

It's like asking if you believe that African-Americans are more likely than whites to commit acts of violence in America. Well... if you say yes are you a racist? It's un-P.C. to talk about it, but blacks are more likely than whites to commit violent crime in America. And yes, the academic in me wants to mention class, poverty, education, and other factors that explain much more than race, but yes, there is a crude-correlation between race and violent crime. We can be liberal and tolerant and not deny reality, right? To know that doesn't make me racist, I hope.

So why would thinking that Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence be a sign of Islamophobia? What if it's true?

Shouldn't we be working harder to end violence rather than pretend it doesn't exist?

Killing Mexicans

Seems to be the latest sport in East Baltimore. Martin Reyes, who wasn't Mexican, is the fifth Hispanic shooting or homicide victim in the area in less than two month. All the victims are Honduran. And moved into a neighborhood that desperately needs an influx of hard-working non-criminals.

The killer (is there where I'm supposed to add, "alleged"?), African-American paroled drug dealer and schizophrenic Jermaine Holley, told police he "hated Mexicans." No doubt this guy also addresses the Korean corner-store owner--just about only person willing to run a business in the area--as "Chinaman."

Reminds of the joke where the Goy is put on the freight train to the concentration camp in Nazi Germany (stop me if I've told this before...). The guy next to him says, "What a tragedy." And the Goy turns to him and says, "No. For you it's a tragedy. For me it's a mistake!"

The Latino victims here, known at least in the New York area as "walking ATMs" because they get paid in cash and don't call the police, are often illegal immigrants. And them moving to Baltimore is the best thing to happen to that city since the crab cake.

The 200 Block of North Kenwood? It seems like a well-kept up block. And one of the rare brick streets left. Homes sell for roughly $125,000, according to Zillow. But I wouldn't live there or on any block on the East Side that start with N for north. On Kenwood, the boarded up buildings start on the 300 Block and on the 500 Block homes sell (and plenty are for sale) for $60-70,000.

Why do immigrants move near the ghetto? It's not because they like getting robbed and killed. It's because it's cheap. And desperate landlords (who keep leaving because of crime but can't sell their homes) don't ask too many questions. And seeing how the Eastern District has lost probably close to 75 percent of it's population, there's lots of room. Who else in moving to here?

Cairo Art Heist

Yes, I too was more surprised that a bunch of priceless paintings are housed in a Cairo museum that the fact that a Van Gogh was stolen.

But get this: they didn't steal the real one!

According to an Egyptian source of mine, the real one was stolen a decade ago when corrupt American-supported dictator/pharaoh Hosni Mubarak's mysterious "business tycoon" son, Alaa Mubarak, sold the painting in Kuwait (not related to its first theft, but to an exhibition in Kuwait in the 1990s) and replaced it with a good fake.

And this "theft" is simply a way to cover for the real theft years ago. Clever.

Did I mention my friend was no idea? But if it's true, it means that the fake that was taken from the museum will not be recovered, since the the people who ordered the theft, who have the original (or work for those who do), would simply destroy it.

August 23, 2010

"Legal to smoke it..."

Boom Chicago over in Amsterdam (my brother's theater) made a funny video about changes in Amsterdam and the drug scene.

The guy in the video, Greg Shapiro, and I arrived in Amsterdam same year same time. He's very funny. I poured his beers.

The other videos are pretty good, too. Check out Tiger Woods' Apology Outtakes.

August 20, 2010

L.V. F-Up

Now I wasn't there, but as I understand it...

A pothead and occasional seller in Las Vegas, let's call him "Vegas Cole," is sitting with his pregnant fiance on a Friday night watching TV. Police bust down the door and shoot and kill him.

Just another day in the drug war, right? Police did find a small amount a weed, a digital scale, and $702 in cash. So what's the problem?

Vegas Cole was unarmed, no guns were found, and his fiance says the money was rent money. Rent money? Yeah, right. I've heard that one before. But you know what I never saw from a drug dealer? A receipt. The fiance actually had a receipt for half the money. From a pawn shop. She pawned her jewelry a few days earlier for $305. Oh. I guess they had money troubles.

The Las Vegas Journal Review says:
[Vegas] Cole, 21, was unarmed when he was killed by a single rifle round fired by Detective Bryan Yant, who a week before the raid swore under oath that Cole had a "lengthy criminal history of narcotics sales, trafficking and possession charges" in Houston and Los Angeles.

But [Vegas] Cole's record in his native California was limited to a conviction for misdemeanor unlawful taking of a vehicle. He probably never even visited Houston.

Investigators might have confused him with another Trevon Cole [let's call him, Texas Trevon]-- one with a different middle name who is seven years older, at least three inches shorter and 100 pounds lighter, records show. That [Texas] Trevon Cole has several marijuana-related arrests in Houston, all misdemeanors
So Yant wasn't too good at dotting the I's and crossing the T's. It's an understandably mistake, right? Just seven years, three inches, 100 pounds, and a different middle name? Seriously, how can a professional police officer confuse these guys. What in the world do these two black men have in common? ...Oh.

So Yant is investigating Vegas Cole because he thinks he's Texas Trevon, who is supposedly is a big-time dealer, but actually isn't. It gets better (Or I guess you could say worse... if you're some party pooper who care about dead people). According to the affidavit:
Undercover detectives had bought ... a total of 1.8 ounces for $840
$465 an ounce for Nevada ditch weed?! Are you f*cking kidding me? The officers were offering perhaps a ten-times markup to buy grass that is barely criminal to possess in Nevada? 1.8 ounces weighs less than 1/4 cup of sugar.

Also, says Phil Smith of Drug War Chronicle, according to the warrant:
when police wanted to make a big score -- $400 worth -- ... they had to reschedule because Cole didn't have that much on hand.
This borders on entrapment. You offer me $400 an ounce for any old shit and I just might make a few calls and go into business. And I got a job. Vegas Cole's pregnant fiance was hawking her jewelry to make ends meet!

Well, Cole is still a criminal, right? Nobody forced this man to accept the offer of easy money law enforcement dangled in front of him. And who knows, maybe neighbors were complaining. And policing is dangerous work. It's not like Yant, who wrote the warrant and pulled the trigger, has a record of being trigger happy or anything. Oh, wait. This is the third police-involved shootings for Yant. Two of them fatal. There is good news. At least for Yant. Of the past 200 fatal police-involved shootings in Vegas--a rate of killing about 50% higher than the NYPD--only one has been found to be criminally bad.

August 18, 2010

Our Evening Constitional Past the Mosque

We went on a "hidden harbor" tour Tuesday evening that went through NY Harbor and down to Port Elizabeth (by Newark Airport). Industrial decay... working harbor... good stuff! It was a beautiful evening. But as a harbor, compared to Rotterdam, it looks like Single-A. The guide said the biggest six harbors in the world are now all in China.







Everybody thank the French for the Statue of Liberty. And for french fries.

Afterward, because it was so close to the boat--like I said, everything is close in lower Manhattan)--we decided to walk past the World Trade Center and mosque sites. The World Trade Center site is still an embarrassing lack of actual building. But hey, it's only been nine years. On the plus side, at least there are more cranes there actually lifting things.

A few block away is the site of the mosque and center. Of course there's a TV truck outside.

The site already is used as a mosque, by the way. But now they pray in the basement.

The building in question, next door.


More interesting is the graffiti on the ground. I wasn't expecting this. Not even in New York.



Pro-mosque, pro-tolerance, and pro-Obama graffiti. And some lefty-fliers and a few books.

It turns out that what kills at the location is not Islam, it's dog feces and urine! I suspected that all along.


Meanwhile, a few doors down, the AT&T sign made me think of the Constitution (a bit hokey, I know, but that's what I thought of!)


Walking back to the subway, another shot of the WTC site. The figures on the construction wall in front of the church are walk signs from cities around the world.


And the gas lights and fountain at City Hall Park at night, one of New York City's not so secret gems.

Finally two candid shots of the subway, just in case you've never seen it. This is what New Yorkers look like when they are no TV or movie cameras around.



August 17, 2010

Tasers equal fewer injuries

That's the result of a study by Bruce Taylor and Daniel J. Woods of PERF in Police Quarterly.

You can't read the whole article without a subscription, but here's the abstract (CED = taser, to you and me):
The Conducted Energy Device (CED) weapon holds the potential to reduce injuries for officers/suspects. However, the dearth of research on CEDs makes it difficult to make informed decisions about its deployment. We conducted a quasi experiment to compare 4 years of data from seven law enforcement agencies (LEAs) with CED deployment with six matched LEAs without CED deployment. Compared with non-CED sites, CED sites had lower rates of officer injuries, suspect severe injuries, and officers and suspects receiving injuries requiring medical attention. Our results suggest that CEDs can be effective in helping minimize physical struggles and resulting injuries in use-of-force cases.

$4.9 million for the estate of Kathryn Johnston

Four years after it happened. One of the worst happenings in the War on Drugs.

August 16, 2010

Not Ground Zero Mosque

I wasn't going to post on this... perhaps other than to say it's absurd that we're debating the right of a people in our country to build a house of worship. It's kind of like debating legal segregation. Haven't we moved past this a long time ago? (Or not so long ago in the case of racial segregation.) I don't want to debate freedom of religion any more than I want to debate slavery.

But I do mention this because my wife said that a friend of hers on facebook didn't even know that this mosque is not being built at the World Trade Center site. Really? Do people really not know this? Are people getting all huffy over a moot point?

45 and 47 Park Place. You can punch it into Google and see where it is. It's near where the World Trade Center was. Two blocks away, to be precise. So is the Hudson River. So is City Hall Park. I mean, in lower Manhattan, everything is close. If people really want to create a "no-mosque zone," at want point exactly would it be OK to build a mosque?

See, since the mosque and cultural center isn't at Ground Zero, I see this much more as an issue for people who hate Islam. That's not a debate I care to enter. Even though I like pork and drinking, I try not to hate. Islam is not terrorism (and if you don't know that, you must learn. -- But Wahhabism spread by our Saudi [pause for quotes] "allies"? That might be another story.)

So is this "hallowed ground"? No. But why don't you judge for yourself?

August 15, 2010

Alvarez released from hospital, arrested

This is the guy shot 20 times by the police. One week later, he's out of the hospital. How is that possible!? From the Times:
The police have arrested Mr. Alvarez on charges of attempted murder, attempted assault in the first degree, criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree and criminal use of a firearm in the second degree.
Is it just me, or does anybody else think that perhaps you should just get a free pass if you're shot twenty times by police... and live.

August 14, 2010

Ghetto Mortality

In the course of writing Cop in the Hood, I researched what I thought was the bombshell statistic that, conservatively estimated, more than 10 percent of the men in the Eastern District are murdered between the ages of 15 and 35 (pp. 219-220).

That bomb sure was a dud.

Maybe everybody already knew. I like to think that. Because the alternative is that nobody cares. It's a sad thought that such a rich and powerful nation doesn't mind that so many, thanks mostly to the bad luck of being born in a shitty place and/or to a shitty family, are more likely to be shot and killed than are soldiers at war.

Do those murdered make some bad choices and do some bad things. Of course. But only in the ghetto does a bad choice or two lead so certainly to destruction and death. And only in the ghetto, even if you make good choices, do you so routinely get nothing for your efforts but a beat down.

Anyway, I was thinking about this again because the New York Times has a bittersweet feel-good story about a cop running a boxing program in St. Louis. One of the kids seems to be making it.

But overall the odds are horrible.
Of the 30 children from the 1995 team, Cunningham, now 45, believes that nine may be dead (at least six are confirmed), with the rest roughly divided among prison, the Bloods and the Crips.
One-third dead. One-third in prison. Most of the rest in gangs. Clearly, if I might restate the obvious, something isn't working.

ICE Agent Almost Gets It

The key to combating [Mexican Drug Cartels], said Alonzo R. Pena, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deputy assistant secretary for operations said, is to go after their money — money used to corrupt officials and to buy weapons.

William J. Hoover, executive director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said "We have to get to the source of the money."

That's all from the El Paso Times.

Gosh. How can we take the criminal profit out of bootlegging... I mean drug dealing?

It's also worth looking at the comments to the article at PoliceOne to see some of the stupidest police officers who know how to type. "Invade Mexico and smart bomb the terrorists!" "Bring the fight to them." I really find it tough to believe that some people still think that is the answer. No doubt because after 28,000 deaths there we've all been playing this too soft. I guess we just need to go in and take out the Osama Bin Laden of Mexican drug dealing. Problem solved. Man, if only it weren't for liberals who hate freedom, we'd be winning all our wars.

Effing idiots.

August 13, 2010

"Ethnographic Chutzpah"

Horn tooting time.

Just two-and-a-half years after the publication of Cop in the Hood, (the academic world can move at a glacial pace) the American Journal of Sociology reviewed Cop in the Hood. Well worth the wait, I'd say, as the review by Profesor Andrew Papachristos is very favorable: "Ethographic chutzpah.... Perhaps the best sociological account on what it means to police a modern ghetto.... Tells a great story." Of course it's deeper than that:
While Cop in the Hood contributes to several debates within urban sociology and criminology, the book’s greatest contribution is the demystification of police and police culture. Moskos describes his fellow officers not as power-hungry, thrill-seeking bullies, but as a well-meaning yet frustrated lot who marshal their own foibles and strengths to cope with unique job conditions and ambiguous political and legal decrees.
Like any author, I'm always very pleased to have my book praised for what it is rather knocked down for what it isn't. But I really appreciate how very well Papachristos (I'm assuming he felt no undue pressure from the Greek mafia, but I do owe him a souvlaki) captured and appreciated exactly what I was trying to do. It's an extremely well written and concise review.

In fact, I think he makes some of my points better than I do.
Full access to police sources leaves readers with a simple yet important finding: just like those neighborhood residents whom they “serve and protect,” police devise complex ways to administer formal and informal social control as they negotiate social mandates, individual morality, professional obligations, and personal networks. To be sure, Cop in the Hood is no apologia for police, nor does it dismiss the harsh consequences of the war on drugs. Instead, it offers a candid investigation of the day-to-day arenas in which legal policies are enacted as well as the power afforded to those charged with enforcing the law. The end result is perhaps the best sociological account on what it means to police a modern ghetto.
The interesting point here is that while academics might wish to employ our chic cultural rhetoric to make sense of police behavior, cops have a rather clear notion of culture and crime that they use to explain both crime and their individual and professional responses to it. The task for the academic reader, then, is to figure out ways to rectify our own valued nomenclature with the empirical reality described by Moskos.
If you couldn't follow that (yes, Gotti, I'm thinking of you), don't worry. But you can read the whole review here.

August 12, 2010

Like Father Like Son?

It's yesterday's news that Adrian Schoolcraft is suing New York and the NYPD for $50 million.

It turns out, amazingly, that this isn't the first Schoolcraft vs. P.D. lawsuit. No, it's not the first. It's not even the second.

Turns out that Adrian's father, Larry Schoolcraft, was also a police officer. In Fort Worth, Texas, I believe (though the Village Voice says Dallas). It seems that, like Adrian, after seven or eight years, Larry didn't leave the police department on good terms, either.

Schoolcraft v. City of Fort Worth was filed in 1999. Whatever it was about, it must have been for pretty big bucks because the city first budgeted $145,000 and then another $65,000 (1,2,3) for its legal defense. In 2000, Schoolcraft's petition for review was denied by the Texas Supreme Court. I guess Larry lost.

The Schoolcrafts have suffered a lot of loss.

Larry Schoolcraft moved to upstate New York. Adrian Schoolcraft joined the NYPD in 2002 and hit the streets in 2003. A few months later his grandfather, Larry's father, died. Soon after that Larry's wife, Suzanne, died, either in 2003 from cancer or in 2004 from a stroke.

A few years pass.

Then in 2007, police got a call for a drunk man at a convenience store. Officers respond and decided the man, Larry Schoolcraft, can't drive. Being a small town, they drove him home. Two or three days later, power company employees saw Larry passed out on his porch. It was cold. They called 911. Subsequently Schoolcraft sued the police. The local paper, the Leader-Herald, reported:
The lawsuit filed April 15 claims Schoolcraft suffered permanent injuries because he was left outside in the cold.

Schoolcraft’s attorney, James. W. Bendall, said his client had to be hospitalized and required surgery. Some of Schoolcraft’s muscles were permanently damaged because of exposure, the suit claims.
Schoolcraft, who is in his 50s, was groggy because of some medication he had taken, his attorney said.
The lawsuit claims deputies simply brought Schoolcraft to his porch [and left him there]. ... Deputies claim they brought Schoolcraft into his home.
Schoolcraft... had no memory of what occurred... [and] found out what had happened when his son, a New York City police officer, came upstate after receiving a call that his father was in the hospital.
Out for two or three days in freezing weather? That's some medication.

No matter, after the 2007 incident, Larry went to live with his son Adrian in New York City. In February, 2008, Adrian's maternal grandfather died. Two days later Adrian's paternal grandmother dies, too.

A very rough month. It might even be enough to push me over the edge.

Two months after the death of his mother, Larry Schoolcraft filed his lawsuit against the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. Six days after the Leader-Herald wrote about the lawsuit, the paper ran another story, this one about how Larry's home had been broken into eight months earlier, back around September, 2007, after Larry went to live with Adrian in NYC. Among the stolen goods, Larry Schoolcraft says, were the ashes of his wife and the couple's infant son, who he says died shortly after being born in 1988.

If it weren't for bad luck, they'd have no luck at all. But at least they had each other for support. Through thick and thin, through all their misfortune, father and son, living together, probably spent a lot time talking, mourning, recovering, and perhaps the subject of police departments came up and just how unfair life can sometimes be.

On June 1, 2008, just six weeks after Larry files his last lawsuit against the police, Adrian starts secretly recording conversations that will become the basis for his first lawsuit against the police.

Maybe it's all just coincidence. Who am I to say? But I'd love to know what Larry's lawsuit in Fort Worth was about. I mean, wouldn't it be something if Adrian's lawsuit against his police department in New York just happened to be similar to his father's lawsuit against his police department in Fort Worth a decade earlier? Wouldn't that really be something?

The New Republican Bill of Freedom

With all this talk of changing the constitution for this and that (and yes, it's strange that supposedly anti-big-government politicians always want to violate the explicit purpose of the constitution that protects the rights of citizens from big government), I've never quite understood the ultimately vision of conservative Republicans. What do they actually want? What if they weren't restricted by politics, common sense, or the slightest sense of human decency? If the Bill of Rights is for commies, what are constitutional amendments that "real Americans" could rally behind?

Let's pick up a newspaper in the year 2013:

WASHINGTON — Supported by super-majorities in both houses on Congress, the Republican president fulfilled a major campaign promise and sent The New Bill of Freedom to the states for constitutional ratification. Surrounded by senators, representatives, and five Supreme Court Justices on the steps of the Capital, President Palin marked this historic event with a speech to thousands of supporters:
This Bill of Freedom reflects the original intentions of our Founding Fathers. The old Bill of Rights [boos from crowd] was all about Big Government protecting big terrorists [more boos].

Oh, yes. No longer will terrorists and drug dealers and flag burners and abortionists and immigrants and sodomites and mainstream media — no longer will [making air quotes] “those people” be allowed to run amok because of — what do those big-L liberals [boos] call them? — technicalities! Today we get the rights we want. Today we get the freedom we deserve! [cheers]

The new conservative Bill of Freedom [applause] fixes the Bill of Rights — or should I say [winks] Bill of Lefts? [laughter] — that were so easy for activist Democrat judges to misinterpret [loud boos]. One hundred years is big-G government and big-S socialism is enough! [mixed boos and cheers]

With this New Bill of Freedom, America is ready for the twentieth century to bring real freedom to real Americans! [cheers] Eighty-seven years ago President Herbert Hoover stood right here and said:
When we are sick, we want an uncommon doctor; when we have a construction job to do, we want an uncommon engineer, and when we are at war, we want an uncommon general. It is only when we get into politics that we are satisfied with the common man.
Oh yeah well today he’d have to be politically correct and say [winks] "woman" [light laughter]. Well today, lipstick and all [chuckles], I am that common woman! [applause]

It is for us to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which Hoover and Reagan fought for. It is for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that this nation, under God [brief moment of silence], shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, will not perish from the earth! [loud applause, crowd breaks into spontaneous singing of campaign theme song, "We could use a man like Herbert Hoover again!"]

The New Republican Bill of Freedom

Amendment I
: Congress shall make no law prohibiting people's right to pray, in either the Judeo or Christian tradition, in public or private; or abridging the freedom of spoken speech or the rights of corporations to give money to politicians.

[No more separation of church and state. Brings back school prayer. And without naming any religion in particular, limits "others" from building houses of worship like they belong here. Also sensibly limits the liberal press and expansive interpretation of "speech."]

Amendment II: The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

[No more grammar debate here.]

Amendment III: Marriage shall be defined as a union between one man and one woman.

[Banning gay marriage is much more important than whatever the Third Amendment used to say. You don't know the Third Amendment anyway.]

Amendment IV: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects shall not be violated but upon reasonable suspicion, supported by oath or affirmation.

[Probable Cause is too high a standard. And why bother with all those other "technicalities"?]

Amendment V: No innocent person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself; nor shall private property be taken for public use. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy trial.

[Why protect the guilty? The innocent have nothing to hide. And who miss grand juries?]

Amendment VI: The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.

[Rights of the criminals again. Blah blah blah.]

Amendment VII: Only persons born to US citizens are citizens of the United States.

[That'll fix the Fourteenth Amendment. Besides, a jury trial for common law disputes in excess of twenty dollar? Get real. The Seventh Amendment has been obsolete even since we abandoned the gold standard.]

Amendment VIII: Punishment shall be appropriate to the crime.

[Like we want liberal judges defining cruel and unusual. That's how they ban the death penalty.]

Amendment IX: The right to life of the unborn is paramount.

[The old amendment was just some constitutional mumbo-jumbo anyway.]

Amendment X: Respecting the rights reserved to the states respectively, or to the people, Amendments Thirteen through Sixteen are hereby repealed.

[If you gotta look them up, how important could they be?]

August 11, 2010

Meanwhile, Mutiny in Juárez

"A bunch of angry, fed-up federal police in Juárez launched a mini-rebellion against some of their commanders Saturday, accusing them of corruption.... The bottom line is that nothing seems to be able to stop or even lessen the violence in Juárez." So says the El Paso Times, just across the border, in the peaceful twin city of El Paso.

Probably, at some point in their career, every police officer has wanted to do this. It's like a pissed-off flight attendant jumping out on the slide of an airplane. But the editorial board of the El Paso Times figures:
Perhaps the last straw was the perception of police officers that their commanders' corruption and links to drugs and the cartels were putting the officers' lives in danger. That could be quite a motivation.

The caption of these AP photos by Raymundo Ruiz says:
Federal police agents beat a fellow officer after a top fellow officer was detained at his hotel room by his subordinates in Ciudad Juarez, northern Mexico, Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010. Around 200 federal police officers protested Saturday demanding the dismissal of fellow police inspector Salomón Alarcón Olvera, aka "El Chaman", accusing him of being linked to drug cartels and having participated in kidnappings, executions and extortions.

"Presidente Fox? There are men here to see you"

The crack research-librarian staff here at Copinthehood Incorporated (aka, my wife) reminds me that President Vicente Fox tried to do something about drug legalization as president but then backed down under US pressure.

Indeed, I dug through the basement archives here in at 1 Copinthehood Plaza and dusted this off from the L.A. Times on May 3, 2006:
Mexican President Vicente Fox will sign a bill that would legalize the use of nearly every drug and narcotic.
The law would be among the most permissive in the world, putting Mexico in the company of the Netherlands.[*]
Selling drugs or using them in public still would be a crime in Mexico. Anyone possessing drugs still could be held for questioning by police [and fined]. But it includes no imprisonment penalties.
Presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar said Tuesday that Fox would sign the measure, calling it an important tool in the fight against drug trafficking.
Fox, whose term ends in December and who is barred by law from seeking reelection, has been considered a strong ally of the U.S. anti-drug effort. He has said the current drug war was triggered when he began arresting top leaders, including Osiel Cardenas, who allegedly runs the Gulf cartel from prison.
Apparently that night there was a knock on his door from some burly gringo men with dark sun glasses and briefcases. It wasn't the Blues Brother. MSNBC reported:
Weighing in, the U.S. government Wednesday expressed a rare public objection to an internal Mexican political development, saying anyone caught with illegal drugs in Mexico should be prosecuted or given mandatory drug treatment.

“U.S. officials ... urged Mexican representatives to review the legislation urgently, to avoid the perception that drug use would be tolerated in Mexico, and to prevent drug tourism,” U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Judith Bryan said.

Apparently Fox got an offer he couldn't refuse. Apparently to the tune of four-hundred-million US dollars a year for at least four years.

At the time, Fox was worried about 650 to 700 drug-war deaths a year. But the bill died and the war on drugs got ramped up. Since 2006 there have been about 7,000 drug-war deaths a year (though nobody knows for sure).

[* If only Mexico could be in the company of the Netherlands. The Netherlands resists US pressure to fight the drug war and partly as a result has a murder rate just a fraction of the US and just a tiny fraction of Mexico's.]

Legalize Drugs, Says Former Mexican President

Reuters reports:
"Legalization does not mean that drugs are good ... but we have to see (legalization of the production, sale and distribution of drugs) as a strategy to weaken and break the economic system that allows cartels to earn huge profits," Fox wrote in a posting over the weekend. "Radical prohibition strategies have never worked."
Newsweek adds:
Fox, a member of the same conservative National Action Party as Calderón, was president between 2000 and 2006 and was a staunch U.S. ally in the war against drugs. But he says he now favors legalizing drugs.
Fox also backs critics who say it was a bad idea to send the Mexican Army to support police as they battle the cartels that smuggle cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamines, among other substances, across Mexico and into the United States. "They are not prepared for police work," he said, in apparent response to allegations of Army brutality. "They should return to the barracks."
Too bad Fox didn't wise up when he was still president. I guess you get wiser when you're no longer on the DEA's payroll.

August 10, 2010

Al Baker steps to the plate... It is high, it is far...

...It is gone!

Al Baker clears the bases and the New York Times is back on top!

Al Baker is a man I don't know. Never met him. Never spoken to him (at least I don't think I have). But I know his name because the man is good reporter on the police beat for the New York Times. When I see Al Baker's name on the byline, I know I'm going to get a good story with no B.S.

Without fanfare, Baker (perhaps suspiciously eying the journalistic wreckage left by his colleagues) steps up the plate and hits a home run. Maybe he had the weekend off, but better late than never.

Kudo's to you, Mr. Baker. Well done, as usually. And thanks for not quoting anybody's mom.

Seriously, though, this is what I want in my news story. Real reporting. Not easy quotes. Compare Baker's writing to the earlier articles. It's like night and day. As a sportscaster might say, "All you young journalists out there, take note. This is how you play the game!"

[p.s. Am I getting old? If I said, "It could be... It might be... it is!" Would anybody still get that home-run-call reference?]

Why cops hate the New York Times

Most cops hate the newspaper. I don't. But that's probably because growing up, there was more newspaper blood in my family than police blood. And a healthy freedom of the press is one of the founding principles of this nation.

And just think for just a few bits every day, comics, sports, news, opinion, it's all dropped off on my stoop every morning (well, not the comics. I have to get my comics online)!

But police often have good reason to hate the press. Reporters, and it must be taught in journalism school or something, feel obliged to get all sides of the story. Sounds good... unless, of course, you understand that all opinions are not equally true. Sometimes, especially with crime stories, there really aren't two sides to the story. Sometimes, as a reporter, you should be biased (if bias is a taboo word, how about "be willing to reach a conclusion"?).

Say a criminal gets shot by police. He had a gun. Some police spokesperson says as much. Duly noted. But then you talk to the dead guy's mother who says, "Pookie was an angel. He would never hurt nobody! And he was home with me at the time he got shot." Why, the mother may actually believe this. Or maybe not. But the gentle reader trying to figure out the truth sees this and says, "Hmmm, there are two sides of the story. I bet the truth lies somewhere in between." Actually... sometimes... no. And it's the reporter's job to get the truth and not just lay out all the junk and let the reader decide what's true.

Now here's a rule of thumb: don't value mothers as objective determiners of their babies' character. Nor should you value a criminal's friends as objective determiners of the criminals non-criminal activity.

Now the Times present a story that can at best be described as a police clusterf*ck and hints at a very bad police-involved shooting, with obligatory references to Sean Bell and hints at the idea that all the bullets were fired by police. The first headline said, "After 50 Shots in Harlem, One Dead and 6 Hurt." Wow. Well, that certainly got my attention. And here's this from the August 9th story by William Rashbaum, Karen Zraick, and Ray Rivera:
The witness accounts retold by the police were at odds with what some other witnesses said had happened. Robert Cartagena, 19, Mr. Alvarez’s cousin, and another witness, Shariff Spencer, Mr. Alvarez’s friend, said they never saw Mr. Alvarez fire a gun. [well what do you expect them to say?]

Mr. Alvarez’s lawyer [whose job it is to defend his client regardless of guilt] ... said his client ... motioned “no” when asked if he had had a gun or fired one.
Now let's go back to the August 8th story by Trymaine Lee and Colin Moynihan:
Yet questions were being raised among some witnesses as to whether the police had acted appropriately.
When that first shot went off, “Angel was still punching,” Mr. Spencer [a friend of Alvarez] said.

“Never once did you hear, ‘Freeze,’ ” he said. “Never once did you hear, ‘Stop.’ Never once did you hear, ‘N.Y.P.D.’ ”
Several residents expressed outrage at the shooting, saying the police were overly aggressive.

“People feel like they have no concern for life,” Sean Washington, a television producer who lives down the street from where the shooting occurred, said of the police. Before the gunfire started, he added, the D.J. at the block party said over the loudspeaker “how good a feeling it was because there was no violence. It was all love.”
See... it was All Love. And then police showed up. Two guys just in a little scuffle and police blow them away.

Having been a police officer, I assume -- no, I know -- that nine times out of ten the police version of the story is closer to the truth than any "witness" account.

Now I wasn't there. So I don't know what happened. But I bet it's pretty close to the Post's account:
Moments before a police-issued semiautomatic slug fatally ripped through Soto's chest, he allegedly pulled his .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver on Alvarez, a small-time hood who was getting the better of him in a fistfight, sources said.

Alvarez lunged for the weapon, and it went off twice during the struggle, attracting the attention of officers nearby, witnesses told police.

Alvarez, 23, then allegedly fired at Patrolman Douglas Brightman -- prompting the uniformed cop and three officers on the other side of the block to return a volley of 46 rounds, police said.
Also, the A.P.'s Colleen Long has a good story.

The Daily News says: "NYPD officials initially said Alvarez killed Soto with the revolver, before shooting at four cops who returned fire. Yesterday, cops said the revolver was in Soto's waistband but Alvarez took it from him and shot at a uniformed officer with it." For the record, Soto was killed and Alvarez shot many many times but is alive.

So what's my point? I'm not certain yet. But why does the Times see fit to quote Ms. Craft, Alvarez’s bother, saying her brother has a job (auto mechanic) and a 2-year-old son? Well maybe because the story is trying to make Alvarez look like a victim, which makes police out to be the criminals.

But if we want a character study on Soto and Alvarez, why not tell the whole story? The Post is willing to call Alvarez a small-time thug. And apparently there's nothing small time about Soto. According to the Daily News:
Both had records. Alvarez had two prior arrests, including one for gun possession and trying to run down a cop with a car, for which he served two years. Soto had been arrested eight times, including for burglary.
But I can hear people saying, "So maybe they had trouble in the past. But how long can you hold that against them? Poor kids." Whatever. And I have a bridge to sell you.

Michael Feeney of the Daily News digs up a Twitter account (I found this under the name BooBillzMB) and writes: "Luis Soto, slain in Harlem shootout, painted himself as tough gangbanger on Twitter.
"I go 2 da grave b4 I be a b---h n----! Fa'realll," he wrote July 23.

He posted photos of himself flashing gang signs, or holding a new iPhone, an iPad and cocktails.

In one photo, he looked out at the camera over a thick fan of crisp new $50 bills - many thousands of dollars worth.

Though he had no job, he planned to trade in his BMW 760, a $130,000 car, for an equally pricey Mercedes-Benz CL550, he tweeted.

A turf rivalry between Harlem, where Angel Alvarez lives, and the Bronx, where Soto was from, surfaced in his tweets. "Not for nothin da BRONX Got More Real N----s Den HARLEM," he wrote July 28.

Friends said Alvarez and Soto had an argument two weeks ago that led to their clash Sunday in Harlem.
With a past record of illegal gun possession and assaults on police, and with a running feud with Soto, perhaps Alvarez's biggest mistake was bringing a knife (or his fists) to a gun fight. Was Soto a b*tch n***a? Not for me to say, but he got his wish about going to the grave first. Was Alvarez just in the wrong place at the wrong time? I doubt it. Is any of this relevant? Actually, yes.

Because imagine going to work and getting into a gunfight. Just another day at the office? Imagine the fear as you see a muzzle flash and think you're going to die. Imagine the guilt of learning that you almost killing another officer. Imagine how lucky you feel to be alive. Imagine the relief of going back to your wife and kids. And for this the department and city you serve make you get a piss test and strips you of your gun "pending investigation." And then in the papers your friends and family read about how you might have killed an innocent hard-working might for no reason.

Did police behave correctly in using lethal force and shooting 46 times at these two fighting men with a gun? Absolutely. I don't want to go too far, but it seems like the least we could do is appreciate what these officers went through and thank them for risking their life while just doing their job.

Schoolcraft sues NYPD for $50 Million

Don't hold your breath waiting for this to sort itself out. Here's what I've already said on this one.

[Update: A link to the lawsuit.]

August 9, 2010

View From Across the Pond

The Guardian has one, two, and three stories on the war on drugs.

In the Windy City, Blowing People Away

One easy way to tell if people have no relation to the criminal justice system is if they believe it actually works... you know, works as in guilty people get convicted after a fair trial, innocent people walk free, and victims feel like justice has been served.

If you believe that, you watch too much TV.

The Chicago Sun-Times is looking back at a particularly bloody weekend in 2008 when 40 people were shot, seven fatally.
So far, not one accused shooter has been convicted of pulling the trigger during those deadly 59 hours from April 18-20 of that year.

Only one suspected triggerman — a convicted armed robber caught with the AK-47 he allegedly used to blow away his boss — is in jail awaiting trial.

Three other victims said they know who shot them but refused to testify.
Refused to testify? Now you might be thinking, "Serves them right if they won't testify." Sometimes indeed, criminals won't testify and it's hard to care too much about them. But other times victims are scared to testify, which is much more troublesome.

But here is where it gets interesting. Let's say you do testify: "After Gamble took the witness stand against the guy who he says shot him, a judge ruled Gamble wasn’t credible because of his criminal record and found the suspect not guilty." Ouch.

How many shooting victims don't have a record (answer: almost none)? But if you've got a bad record your testimony isn't credible? Any wonder why people get away with murder?

Last year, according to the Sun-Times, more than 90 percent of Chicago shootings resulted in no charges. With odds like that, you'd have to be a chump not to kill.

August 8, 2010

On the night train, with Charles Rangel

It bothers me a bit when people (politicians included) blame politicians and "Washington" for our nation's woes. Or when politicians encourage cynicism and promote the idea that running our country doesn't take any special skill set or intelligence.

Given his troubles, I thought I'd repost an edited version of something I wrote about my chance meeting with Charles Rangel in 2008. I don't like to see the man, after all he's done for New York, being left out in the cold.

Our system ain't perfect, but it's the best we got. And if we throw all the experienced bums out, we'll have mediocre bums leading a mediocre country. Churchill said democracy is the worst system except all other. And I wouldn't swap it for any other system in the world.

In some ways being a politician is like being a cop. It's a dirty world out there and there are a lot of parts that are morally gray. So everybody violates some rules some of the time. And if they want to get you, they can always find a way. I wonder how many of us could live up the ethical regulations we impose on others in the name of "good government"? I doubt I could.
October 12, 2008
I was talking to Charles Rangel last night. On the night train coming back from Boston.

I was in the bar car and heard a strangely familiar gravely voice order a wine. "That must be Charles Rangel," I thought. This guy was shorter than I imagined Rangel to be, but when I saw an official looking Congressional Lapel Pin, I knew for sure.

I was kind of caught off guard and told him to keep up his good work. He thanks me and squeezed my shoulder and left. Back in my seat, drinking my Budweiser, I thought, "Man, I handled that poorly. First of all, I should bought him his wine. Second, why didn't I tell him that I was my father’s son? They kind of knew each other and were sort of buddies... or at least that was my father's version of the story.

But in this case I got a second chance. I went up for beer number two and started talking with the cafe guy. We shot the shit about North and South, white and black, and corporal punishment (He was from Virginia, black, and pro). Anyway, it was a quiet train and we were chatting for about 20 minutes.

Then Rangel returns, a bit disheveled. He orders a cheeseburger and goes to the bathroom. I notice the cafe guy goes through the motions but doesn't actually pop the bag on the cheeseburger and put it in the microwave until Rangel comes out of the bathroom and comes back for his order. He has no idea who this is, I think.

While Rangel is waiting, I tell him he knows my father, Charles Moskos.

"The draftee!" He explains in his trademark voice. "We were both draftees. That's the point, the poor shouldn't be the only ones to serve." Rangel once told my father that if it weren't for the army (and a Greek sergeant in particular), he'd be a bum.

I told Rangel my father had died recently, which he didn't know. "He was young," he said, "at least younger than me!" "I know," I said with a grimace and a reassuring pat on his arm.

The cafe guy asked Rangel if he wanted anything to drink. He said a Pepsi and gave the guy his money. "Let me get that for you," I said! "No, no, that's not necessary," he said.

I insisted, in part because I knew my father would have loved any story that involved me paying for the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee's cheeseburger.

So there we are, Charles Rangel and Peter Moskos, each trying to get the cafe man to take our money. But because the cafe man knew me and not Charles Rangel, he took my money. Rangel thanked me, said a few nice things about my father, and returned to his seat.

Here is one of the most powerful men in America. Taking the night train. Tired. No entourage. Willing to talk.

At Penn Station I watched Rangel get off the train. There he was, gentleman, congressman, 78-years-old, draftee, carrying his own bags. I offered to carry them for him. But he politely declined. I figure in this day and age you could get in trouble for grabbing a congressman's suitcase, so all I could do was offer again. He declined again. We went up the escalator and said goodbye. There he went, Charles Rangel, walking off alone into the night at 3am.

It made me proud to be an American.

August 7, 2010

Gay Police Boat, Amsterdam

My (straight) brother in Amsterdam sends me this email with the subject, "blue is pink." In Amsterdam, the gay pride boat parade is for everybody:
Happy Gay Pride!

Do the police not have a gay parade boat where you come from?

The inflatable hat is a nice touch. Caption on the boat says, "The police are for everyone," meaning, as I interpret it, gay cops and gay citizens.


Happiness is a steamed crab

It's crab feast time of year. I'm off to Baltimore. Crabs will get ate. Beer will get drunk.

August 6, 2010

Happiness is a Worn Gun

In Harpers, Dan Baum has the best piece you'll ever read about carrying a concealed gun. Why is it the best? Because it doesn't fall into any of the usual left-wing-hate-guns right-wing-love-guns cliches.

Along with guns, Baum likes rational drug policy, bicycles, hats, food, and my book (we have much in common). He's, you know, your typical gun-loving liberal Jewish boy from New Jersey (errr).

Baum is also the author of the sleeper hit Smoke and Mirrors and the much acclaimed more recent Nine Lives.

Alas, this article is only available by subscription so you'll have to run out to your local newsstand a buy the current issue of Harpers. It's worth it. [Update: here's a pdf of the article] Here's an excerpt, not from the article, but from his gun blog:
I like guns for a lot of reasons: I hunt, I enjoy the sensual pleasure of manipulating their exquisitely exact mechanisms, I’m drawn to the history they evoke, I enjoy the elegant geometry of marksmanship. But I can’t pretend that guns aren’t at their heart instruments of lethal violence.

There may be some dark “real” reason that I like guns lurking under there -- something about my penis, perhaps, or a latent desire to dominate others by force. It may also be that I like guns for all the reasons I think I like guns. What is clear is that most of my friends, who tend to be liberal Democrats like me, don’t get it. Neither, quite frankly, do the liberal Democrats in office who keep trying to impose restrictions on a device -- and a culture built around the device -- that they don’t understand.

Wrestling midgets killed by fake hookers

It's not an Onion headline; it's real.

Connecticut Killer's 911 Call

The New York Times has a link to Omar Thornton's call.

[Update: And the police officer who answered the call gets kudos.]

August 5, 2010

Cost of Crime

The UK's Daily Mail reports how two very criminal families, over the course of four decades, have cost taxpayers £37 million ($59 million).
The families were members of two notorious gangs in Birmingham, the Burger Bar Boys and the Johnson Crew.

The total cost to the public of these two gangs - as opposed to only the two families themselves - is thought to be nearly £190 million.

The £37 million includes the cost of police investigations, lawyers, trials and prison for murders, attempted murders and serious injuries inflicted by three generations from the pair of gangster families.

But it does not count the cost of medical care of victims, of undetected crimes by the same families, of their more minor crimes, or the cost in money or harm to their victims.
Nor does it take into account the state benefits claimed by the families, the education and extra teaching required by their children, their own burden on the NHS, or of providing them with council houses.

August 4, 2010

Giuliani’s Daughter Arrested for Shoplifting

Is this really news? No. But then again... if somebody else's daughter were arrested, I'm sure Giuliani might have something to say. Suffice it to say, she's no alter boy.

I'd file this in the right-wing hypocrisy cabinet (which is similar to but takes up slightly more space than left-wing hypocrisy cabinet). If your big thing is family values, perhaps you'd be wise to pay extra special attention to your own, first.

I'll file this one right between "Cheney, draft dodger (better things to do)" and "Homophobe politicians (gay)." And the latter is right before "Limbaugh, Rush (four-time defender of traditional marriage... and junkie)."

Worth a Read

New York Representative Anthony Weiner writes about why he got angry on the house floor.

Good on ya, Tony. It's a shame that those who wrap themselves in the flag and take "patriotic" photo-ops in my city won't put their money behind their mouth.

"I feel as though..."

These are adopted from my field notes:
It’s 1am and ______ and I are on the way to John’s Express to pick up a pizza I ordered 10 min. earlier. They said they’re closing at 1am. I’m hungry. We’re going south on Broadway past Monument and the Hopkins folks are waving to us. I wave back. But they really want us to stop. “Son of a bitch!” I say.

The Hopkins security tells us that a woman with them there has been raped. I suspect she wasn’t. But it’s not an obvious failure-to-pay case so I think it may be real. I talk to the woman and ask her what happened. She was with a guy and says, “I feel as though I was raped.” The cop in me knows that the “I feel as though” means it didn’t happen. Still, it’s my job to figure out what did happen.

She says, “We was just kicking it.”

So I start asking the important questions. These questions might seem insensitive to some. But these are questions that need to be asked. And it’s my job to ask these questions. I can be sensitive, but I’m not a rape counselor. I’m investigating a potential crime.

“What is he to you?” A friend.

“Where did you meet him?” On Central.

“How long have you known him?” I just met him.

“What were you doing on Central?” Walking.

“Where did this happen?” Over down there a few blocks.

I ask some more questions. All in all, she’s pretty straight with me. And she doesn’t look bad for a 25-year-old (later I find out she’s 19). She tells me she wanted $20 and got $5. They have sex. It’s never clear to me exactly how consensual this was. But what she’s most upset about is not the perhaps forced sex but that he took her jackets before kicking her out. And not just one jacket, but three. It’s cold out.

I ask her--sincerely, not sarcastically--what she wants. “I just want my jackets back,” she says. That’s not an answer I was expected. But at least this, I think, we can do.

My partner and I go to the place where whatever happened happened. I knock on the door and someone else answers the door. Then the guy in question comes down stairs. I get him alone and say, “Look, this woman is saying some very serious things. [I don’t use the R-word because I want to cover my own ass, but I make it pretty clear] ... She’s also saying all she wants is her jackets back. Why don’t you make this easy for all of us and find her jackets and give them to us. Then we can go and leave and everything is cool.”

First the guy says he doesn’t know her. Then he says she was with his brother, who left [not very convincing]. Then he goes out the back [luckily he came back] and comes back with three jackets. We take the jackets and leave.

We give the woman back her jackets and she thanks us.

We tell the woman she should quit her crazy lifestyle and wish her the best.

And then we go on our way. I make it to John’s Express at 01:20 and get my pizza.
Best of all (from a cop’s perspective), because the call was on-view and not called in, there was no paperwork.

Did I handle this by the book? No. Was the woman raped? Hard to say. Could I have locked him up? Yes. Could I have locked her up? Certainly. Should I have locked either up? I don’t know. But I didn’t.

She wanted her jackets back and I got them for her. I felt strangely satisfied at how I handled this situation. Was I right?